“The only way a flower can blossom is to be in the sun.”
This piece of advice convinced New Haven native Jesse Hameen II to leave California and return to the East Coast in 1966.
Hameen, jazz drummer and Neighborhood Music School jazz & rock studies coordinator, recalled that piece of advice during a gig this past Thrusday as a speaker in NMS’s “Neighborhood Spotlight” series. The series, created by Noah Bloom, NMS director of programs and community engagement, and Julius Stone, community engagement liaison, is meant to create a conversation between artists and the community.
“We want to allow people to dive into the mind of the artist they’ve admired,” Bloom said.
In addition to his position of jazz & rock studies coordinator, Hameen is also the NMS summer jazz director. Hameen, who has been with NMS for the past 18 years, teaches drums and percussion, and runs several ensembles, including Latin jazz and blues.
In a small, crowded room decorated with arts and crafts, Hameen shared his journey as a jazz musician born and raised in New Haven’s Dixwell neighborhood.
Hameen said his love for music started young. He always found himself beating out rhythms for as long as he could remember. He came from a musical family where it wasn’t out of the norm for someone to break out into gospel song while another person played the piano.
“There wasn’t a specific individual” who inspired him to pursue a jazz career, he said. “The music was my influence.”
Although he also plays other instruments, Hameen excels at jazz drums. He has recorded and performed with artists such as Irene Reid, Ruth Brown, Bonnie Raitt, and Tony Williams. He was praised for his music during his time in California, but he felt he wasn’t being challenged. In order to grow as musician, he left the West Coast and set out for New York.
“I don’t wanna be the best; I’m only 25! I want to grow,” he said about his decision to leave the West Coast.
Hameen grew as an artist in New York, but his love and dedication to New Haven never wavered. When his parents fell ill, he returned to New Haven, where he continued to play drums. He referred to New Haven as “a mecca for jazz music” where artists thrived and built off each other.
Multiple times throughout the night, Hameen spoke of how New Haven has done so much for him, both personally and professionally. He told the crowd about a one time when, as he was about to play a gig in New Haven after returning from his stint in New York, the emcee told the crowd that New York had made him great. Outraged, Hameen called out: “New York didn’t do this! New Haven did!”
In addition to his positions with NMS, Hameen is also president and founder of Inspire Music Recording Company, and a founding member of Jazz Haven, a not for profit organization that promotes the culture of jazz in New Haven through performances and education.
Hameen kept the audience engaged throughout the entire spotlight event, giving demonstrations on the drums and tambourine, as well as incorporating short video clips of his performances with various artists.
The Neighborhood Spotlight talks are free for the public and held at NMS on Adubon Street. The next spotlight, on May 5, will feature Aaron Jafferis, a hip-hop poet and playwright.